I thought a lot about this camera for a long time. After spending weeks with Pilot Era, I still could not figure out where this camera was pointing, what was the idea behind it, but then I understood.
Pilot Era is the first true All-In-One 360 camera.
The idea behind this camera is to give to users a product that provides a complete final content, ready to be shared, without needing to be edited with third-party programs/apps. Pilot Era, being equipped with a screen, doesn't need to be connected to a smartphone for the live preview or to watch a just taken photo or a just recorded video. Everything can be done in-camera, as well as stitching and sharing on Google Street View. And this allows you to save an infinite amount of time, which is currently what the creators need. And it doesn't even need to be connected in Wi-Fi since there is the possibility to insert a 4G sim and make the camera independent also in terms of internet connection.
Obviously those who want it, can also control the camera with the smartphone, download photos and edit them and so on. But then it would not be different from the various 360° cameras on the market.
Hmmm ... In truth, yes. This camera shoots in 8K REAL. The NATIVE resolution of the photos is 8192x4096, and not 7680x3840 like the other cams of this range.
Plus, it's Google Maps Street View Ready. This means that you can map a route and upload it to GSV directly from the camera (or even upload a single photo).
Let's see it better.
The camera is shipped with a hinged Hard Case, very good and comfortable to carry.
Pilot Base - the Base is a gadget that can be inserted under the camera and that adds functions regarding the internet connection. In fact it is possible to insert a 4G sim card allowing the camera to have its own 4G connection (this option allows you to take the camera anywhere) or you can connect an Ethernet cable (RJ45), but obviously there will be the limit of the connected cable. Obviously there is also the USB Type-C port for charging. Below there's the mechanism for screwing the Base to the Pilot Era and the hole for the 1/4" screw that allows you to screw the camera with the Base on a tripod etc;
USB Type-C for charging and transferring files;
Microfibre cleaning cloth, needle for removing the sim card slot.
Unfortunately, a soft bag is missing to cover the camera without placing it every time in the hard case. But PiSoftTech is planning to provide a rubber kit to cover the lenses in the future.
Pilot Era looks like a monolith with four black faces. She's gorgeous. The shell seems to be very rigid plastic, perhaps a metal core covered with a plastic material. Each of the four faces has a glossy plastic panel (and very little oleophobic so fingerprints are clearly visible), while the corners are opaque (very beautiful). The edges are all blunt, this gives to the camera a very elegant and professional shape.
Based on the image above
The faces 1 and 3 are the same. At the top there is the microphone, below it the Sony 1/2.3" sensor, then an air hole with the PiSoftTech logo, the shutter button and, at the bottom, the phrase "Google Maps Street View ready".
The face 4, like the others, has the microphone and the sensor at the top, while at the bottom there is the opening mechanism because, in truth, the face 4 is a door that protects the removable battery.
The face 2, in the end, is the main one, I would say. Like the others, it has the microphone and the sensor at the top, but then there is a status LED, the touch screen, the ON/OFF/Home button and the speaker.
At the top we have a glossy panel with the PiSoftTech logo, while at the bottom there is the USB Type-C port and holes for screwing the camera on a tripod (1/4") or on the Base (supplied with the camera).
Pilot Era take photos in 8K (true 8K, 8192x4096). The photos are saved in JPEG and, unfortunately, there is no RAW mode. On the other hand there is the HDR that takes 3 photos with different exposures and combines them to lighten the shadows and lower the high lights (HDR bracketing).
The colors are really good. Most of the shots don't need corrections. The only thing is that the HDR is strong and, as the result, the photos are slightly desaturated and seem blurred, as if there was a bit of haze. For the rest everything is ok.
There is also the Pro mode that allows you to customize the shot. It is possible to change ISO, Exposure value (EV), White Balance, Exposure Time and Stitching Reference (Indoor/Outdoor).
ISO range from 100 to 800. Let's say it's not the best. Personally I would have preferred from 50 to 1600, at least. EV values range from -4 to +4. This one is good. If the photographer wants, it is possible to make a manual bracketing up to 9 photos. Not that necessary, in my opinion, but still possible. It is possible to set the exposure time from 1/3200sec to 1/15sec. These valors should be increased during the next updates to allow a better low-light photography.
For photos, you can activate the Stability that will level the photos even if the camera is not perfectly levelled.
By default, it's selected the Real-Time stitching, but you can select the OpticalFlow stitching in the photo settings. (I talk about the stitching in a separate section below).
This camera has two video recording modes: Stitched and Unstitched.
Stitched: videos are stitched directly during recording and are ready for sharing.
Stitched videos are recorded with the following specifics:
8K (7680x3840) 7fps
6K (5760x2880) 15fps
4K (3840x1920) 30fps
You can activate "Stability" to stabilize videos. Stabilization is anti-rotate, for now, so when you walk there is a bit of shaking, but if you rotate the camera, the video remains stable and the view does not rotate. In the future updates, anti-shake stabilization should also be implemented.
Indeed, since the camera weighs 700g (+ eventual attachments), I would not consider Pilot Era as a walk-vlogging camera, but if you want to put it in a backpack with a pole, a better stabilization would be welcome.
Unstitched: videos are saved separately and will need to be stitched later in-camera.
8K (7680x3840) 24fps
7K (7040x3520) 24fps
6K (5760x2880) 30fps
4K (3840x1920) 30fps
To stitch videos recorded with unstitched mode, simply go to Gallery and tap on the puzzle icon. You can only do 1 stitching at a time and, for now, you can not select multiple videos to queue up.
For unstitched videos, at the moment, there is NO stabilization.
Google Street View
The GSV mode allows you to record a video in 8K at 7fps with the geodata which can be uploaded directly on Street View and create a path directly with the camera itself. GSV takes 24/48h to process the files and creates the blue line, visible directly on Maps.
The convenient thing is the possibility to pause the upload at any time and resume it later WITHOUT RESTARTING FROM THE BEGIN.
At the moment there seem to be some problem during the upload phase on GSV (I think) because the final quality of the photos is reduced, but this has been reported to the PiSoftTech technicians who are working to find a solution. In theory with the next update everything will be ok.
The GPS signal is the standard one (not GPS-A) and it works really well. It takes a while to connect (like all GPS systems of this kind need about 60 seconds to triangulate the position), but after locating, the signal has the accuracy of 1-2m. Honestly I thought it would be worse, but by checking the photo sequence on Google Maps with the satellite view, the photos are positioned perfectly.
Obviously, this system is difficult if there are obstacles (such as tall buildings) in the immediate vicinity and sometimes it trips without GPS data. Unfortunately, if it's a 7fps video, if the camera does not have enough data, it will not be possible to upload the file to GSV. Or it will be possible to upload it, but GSV will refuse it due to the lack of GPS data. For this reason, I think PiSoftTech should allow you to manually select the place on Maps where the photos were taken, in one of the next updates.
In the case of an internal Virtual Tour, you can upload all the single photos directly from the camera and then connect them via the GSV app.
Pilot Era can do live streaming on different platforms (including Facebook and YouTube) with a maximum resolution of 4K. You can choose the resolution you want for the stream and also the bitrate for each resolution. Obviously, for having higher quality, during my tests I streamed in 4K at 15mbps. Actually the max quality available is 4K 50mbps.
The quality of the streaming is good. I would say it looks a bit better than a 4K video recorded with a consumer-grade camera. The audio quality is good even if the wind noise reduction is missing. Stitching during the live is good if the camera is stable. During the movements you notice some stitching lines, but it should improve with the addition of anti-shake stabilization.
Here below you can see the live test.
For the moment it is possible to check the status of the streaming only from the camera. This means that all settings must be managed from the camera screen and viewers and comments can not be viewed. To get these details you need to follow the live on the platform.
However, in one of the next updates, will be added the possibility to control everything from the app on the smartphone. This will give the possibility to manage the live being away from the camera, which can be useful in many situations.
The stitching is excellent from 1.5m onwards. The nearest objects are often cut or deformed during the stitching phase, so when positioning the camera in such narrow areas, it is advisable to direct the corners of the camera towards the "empty" or neutral areas. But once you get used to this, the rest is good. Very good.
The stitching of Pilot Era has to be studied. It's different because it has to be adjusted according to the environment in which you shoot since there are 4 sensors and you have to remember two factors : Stitching Reference and Stitching Flow.
Stitching Reference is the reference that the camera uses for stitching. Basically you have to select if you shoot inside or outside, but you can also choose a middle way (there is a bar that allows you to choose the appropriate reference during live preview). The Stitching Reference should be checked every time the shooting location is changed to prevent ghosting. To check the Stitching Reference just go to "Pro" in each shooting mode. It will be possible to make the adjustment directly live on the camera screen.
Stitching Flow is the stitching mode of the photos and can be Real-Time (for outside shooting) or OpticalFlow (for inside shooting). By default is set to Real-Time, but Pilot Era gives the possibility to change Stitching Flow AT ANY TIME. In few words, the user takes the picture and the photo is stitched with Real-Time flow. Then, from the Gallery, you can look at the photo and, if you are not satisfied with the stitching, you can change from Real-Time to OpticalFlow (and vice versa). Eventually, you can even go back at any time. You can set the OpticalFlow stitching as the default in the photo settings.
This is a feature that I personally appreciated very much as it allows you to check the shots and decide the best stitching. Many times, optical stitching can help with stitching errors on nearby objects.
You can select multiple photos to change Stitching Flow to. They will be processed one at a time. Stitching process, however, can be interrupted if you start stitching a video, which takes priority over everything. But if needed, the stitching of a video can be paused and resumed later, even if you turn off the camera and turn it on afterwards. Stitching steps are automatically paused when Pilot Era enters shooting/recording mode or when the camera is turned off.
Ok, before continuing with the technical details, I'll tell you what I think of this first part. Pilot Era, at the beginning, is not a simple camera to use. It is very user-friendly in the process of "teaching" the use of itself. In the sense that it is not difficult to learn how to use it, but the same it has to be studied. First of all the Stitching Reference. It's a factor that I personally was not used to, as the consumer cams do not have this detail, but after a few weeks of use I'm almost used to it. It simply needs to be checked every time you change locations. Many times, since there are 4 sensors and not 2, there were Ghosting effects because I was wrong with the reference and I did not put the camera in a "better" position. In the sense that it would be more useful to put the camera with the edges towards the "empty" points. But there are not always empty points. It takes practice. This "rule", however, is not always useful as stitching manages to handle situations very well.
The HDR in my opinion is too strong and should not always be used. Normally I shoot always in HDR, but with this camera, in many situations, the automatic settings take excellent photos. The HDR is recommended in low light conditions because it gives the possibility to recover a shot that otherwise would be complicated to have with editing. Here below I show you an example.
Since the idea behind Pilot Era is to ELIMINATE the editing phases, I would say that PiSoftTech is succeeding. Slowly, update after update, this cam will be able to give a final product that will only have to be uploaded ... using the camera itself. Actually the Pilot Era is already able to give a product that does not need editing, but sometimes I personally make some changes. For example, the Nadir logo, which sometimes does not completely cover the tripod. But perhaps it will be possible to decide the size of the logo with a future update.
The main comfort of this cam is the touch screen with which you can do all the operations. It is useless to deny it and, of course, we can not ignore it because it's comfortable. You will not waste the battery of the smartphone to control the preview or to change the settings, the display allows you to check back immediately the shot just made and, eventually, change the stitching flow if you are not satisfied. Also share the photo directly on GSV, if the cam is online.
This thing may seem quite common or even useless in the eyes of those who have never tried Pilot Era, but the fact of being able to control everything and be sure of the shot is a not indifferent advantage that saves TIME. And, as we all know, time is money. In addition, the photo is already ready to use. But even if for some reason the shot is not perfect, thanks to the display it takes much less time to make the shots and then the work decreases.
And so let's talk about the display and the rest.
The display is 3.1 "LCD with 800x480 resolution with capacitive touch screen.
The touch is sensitive and precise. While at the beginning occasionally it happened that a command was missing, after the last update the operation is perfect. Obviously it is multitouch and then you can zoom in and zoom out the photos in the gallery to see the details.
In addition to "Camera" and "Live", in the main menu of the display there is "Gallery" and "Settings".
All the contents of the camera are shown in the gallery. The order is chronological, photos and videos together.
You can open photos and videos to watch them and, if necessary, change the Stitching Flow (of the photos). You can watch the contents with different view modes (crystal ball, tinyplanet, equirectangular etc), see the information, upload the content on GSV (if there is GPS data) and on Google Drive or delete it. Videos recorded in Unstitched mode must be stitched one at a time. From the Gallery, you can select multiple photos to change Stitching Flow.
Pilot Era Settings are user friendly and very intuitive. There is a single menu divided into 4 parts.
Connection: WiFi, 4G, Ethernet and Hotspot. The first 3 are clear enough. The hotspot is used to create a wifi network that will allow other devices to connect to the camera. This allows the user to control the camera through the smartphone, but not only. If the camera is connected to internet (for example through the 4G or with the Ethernet cable), through the hotspot it is possible to allow the connected devices to have an internet connection.
Shooting settings: In truth this part has been added recently and there is only one voice, that is Bottom Logo. It allows you to select the logo that will be seen in all the photos and in all the videos on the Nadir. You can upload a personal logo, use the brand logo or leave the Nadir without a logo.
Screen & Light - Display brightness, the display timeout for switching it off to save battery and LED.
Date & Time
Sound - Volume control and shutter sounds.
Language - For now only English and Chinese.
Storage - Allows you to check the available/used memory.
Energy Saver - Internal fan control for cam cooling. It can always be switched off, always on or automatic, which will depend on the temperature of the camera. Obviously, having the fan turned on consumes more battery.
System settings - System Update, Reset, About, Manual.
The updates for Pilot Era will be released every 2/3 weeks.
Ok .. technical details end here.
Now let's talk about it freely. Pilot Era is a camera that aims to eliminate editing and, I have to admit it, many times it succeeds. First of all there is the convenience of the screen. I must admit, it is extremely comfortable to have everything immediately on the cam, everything immediately on hand. You do not need to connect the phone to get the preview. Simply switch the camera on, choose the settings and shoot. And the shots are good. Most of the time the AUTOMATIC settings of the camera handle the various situations quite well. Care must be taken to stitching, which is the only thing to get used to.
The other point in favor is internal memory. Pilot Era has effective 500GB of memory that is NOT REMOVABLE and NOT EXPANDABLE. Ok, being not expandable could be a malus, but personally I took pictures and recorded videos for weeks and I never filled it. Obviously, every now and then it must be emptied, but having internal memory allows you to never lose anything and, above all, YOU DO NOT NEED TO BUY MEMORY CARDS. This lowers the final spending. Also very much because for PRO-level cameras, good memory cards are needed which, therefore, are quite expensive.
If you need it, you can control the camera through your smartphone just being connected to the same WiFi. No need to hotspot with the cam. This allows you to have both the cam and the smartphone online. Very comfortable.
The possibility to change stitching flow is very useful. If any ghosting occurs or if there are stitching errors, it is sometimes possible to save the shot by changing the stitching flow.
Obviously, however, there are some shortcomings. Nothing is perfect, isn't it?
The camera has HDR bracketing. Defect ? No ... not always. To take one HDR shot, Pilot Era takes 3 photos with different exposures and, if there is any movement during the shots, this causes errors in the photo. Personally I would have done separately software HDR and bracketing HDR. We might see in one of the future updates. In addition, the HDR is very aggressive in terms of colors. While the shadows and lights are handled very well, the colors lose saturation and contrast. Not overly, but personally I prefer automatic colors. This in light conditions, because when it comes to low-light, the HDR is the only solution to get a great shot, because, for now, there is no night mode.
And here the other missing piece: the shooting modes. Shooting modes like Time-Lapse, Long Exposure or Manual mode are not available. You can manually set ISO and EV, but not the exposure time that would be useful for night shots. I know, however, that the PiSoftTech team is working on it, so I'm waiting for the next updates.
The videos in 8K : I stared to record in 8K since they updated the framerate up to 24fps. But the audio-video synchronization is not perfect. I always corrected it in post-processing. This issue has been reported to the brand and it should be fixed soon.
Anti-shake stabilization is missing, but I hope it'll be added in one of the next updates.
All right. Pilot Era is fine. It's small, it's comfortable, light, portable, autonomous. It saves a lot of time and this allows you to work quickly and get excellent results right away. But even if someone wanted to edit, having a good result in a short time is ALWAYS better.
The price of Pilot Era is 2999€/2599$/19800¥. On the purchasing page you can see also other currencies.
A couple of words about the price : it's good. It worths it. It's cheaper than the other 360 Pro level cams, but of course it's not a consumer camera. The price, leaving apart the quality of the contents, is justified by the time you need to create them, because Pilot Era allows you to eliminate editing time and save HOURS of work. Who creates professional virtual tours knows how much time is needed not only for the editing, but also for the shooting (connecting the smartphone for the preview, downloading pictures and checking the quality ecc). Pilot Era, simply, doesn't need it.
And there is a discount with my code, which will save you another 99 € / 99 $ / 800 ¥.
Details here below. Purchasing page : Pilot Era
- 99€/99$/800¥ discount with the code "yw2f0y9l" (without quotation marks). Since I'm a very nice person and, as the most of the times, I try to make you spend less money !
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